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On My Migration To Mirrorless
I’ve been shooting with Canon ever since I stole my girlfriend Kristin’s (now my wife) Rebel when I fell in love with photography. If she had had a Nikon instead, I’d have been shooting Nikon ever since. I’ve never really cared much for the silly debates between cameras, computers and what not. Canon and Nikon split the market pretty evenly for a reason; they both make good quality cameras. There are world famous photographers shooting Canon and there are world famous photographers shooting Nikon. So let’s stop with the nonsense of one being better than the other. A camera is only as good as the person using it.
Where these debates can actually become useful is when you start looking at the specific, niche needs of the photographer trying to decide on a camera. If you’re a macro photographer who photographs tiny bugs or snowflakes, then Canon will actually better suite your needs because of their superior macro lens lineup. If you like extremely wide zoom lenses for landscape photography, it’s hard to beat Nikons 14-24 behemoth piece of glass. If you like massive, massive images then you couldn’t really beat the Nikon D800 until the A7r came out.
So What’s My Situation and How Did That Play Into My Decision?
I’m going through a pretty significant transition in my photography work. I primarily did client work to pay the bills for the last 4-5 years of my photography career. Weddings, engagements, families, businesses, architecture, whatever brought in the money. Over the past year and a half or so I started moving away from traditional client work and started promoting my products more like ebooks, video tutorials, presets, workshops and so on. It hasn’t been the easiest road to take, but it has really been worth it in so many ways and I feel truly blessed to be able to do what I do. I still take a few select clients here and there, but not near as many as I used to.
Now the majority of what I shoot is landscapes and travel images. I no longer have much use for off camera flashes, super fast glass or state-of-the-art focus tracking. Now I do the majority of my shooting on a tripod, using live view, at slow shutter speeds. Will I still need flash from time to time? Yes. Will there still be times where I could really benefit from an f/1.4 lens? Absolutely. Will I still want to photograph a pelican flying through the air or a plane zooming by ever now and again? You betcha. I still have my Canon gear if I really need that sort of thing. I will likely sell my 1Ds Mark III for a cheaper, smaller body like the new Canon 6D but I’m not really in a big hurry to do that. The 6D is still full frame but it’s much smaller and lighter and won’t take up as much space in my bag.
The Sony A7 intrigued me the moment I heard about it. I bought the Sony NEX-7 right when it came out. There was a lot of hype around it and I dove right in to see what it was all about. Long story short: While I love the NEX-7 and still use it from time to time, it is NOT good enough to become my primary camera. The cropped sensor (in addition to not being able to go as wide) means that noise becomes a big factor and RAW files don’t have the latitude/flexibility that they normally do with full frame sensors. The NEX-7 can produce top notch images, don’t get me wrong, but you just don’t have enough room to push the pixels in post when you need to. The NEX-7 became more of a family camera for me. And that’s really the main role it took for me. I took it to Disney World and left all my other gear at home. It was awesome. Being able to do all my shooting from the hip and not have to worry about lugging around extra lenses, heavy bodies or tripods was freeing to say the least. It definitely wet my appetite for these new, lighter cameras.
The Sony A7 is everything I hoped the NEX-7 would be and more. Here are the key features that have me hooked.
- It’s full frame.
- The noise quality is freaking insane (seriously though…useable images at ISO 25,600).
- The live view screen gives me a real time preview of what the final image will look like, rather than just a window to what the camera is looking at like on traditional cameras. Because of that, the meter really becomes quite useless. I don’t have to use the meter to guess at what the exposure will look like after I take the picture, I can see exactly what the final image will look like before I ever even touch the shutter. Do you realize how big of a deal that is? Think about that and let it sink in.
- The tilting screen is just so, so awesome. Now I can get the camera down to ground level and I don’t have to lay prone or get into some awkward position. I can just put the camera down low, and then tilt the screen up toward me. So brilliant.
- The weather sealing is (supposedly) just as good as my 1Ds Mark III body. I’ve watched videos where they dump an entire bottle of water over the camera and it just keeps going with no problems. That was another big drawback to the NEX-7. I shoot in some pretty harsh environments from time to time and this is a big plus for me. Just in the past year I’ve been in everything from 128˚ at Death Valley National Park to 3˚ at Arches National Park.
- I can use my Canon lenses via the Metabones adapter. I lose autofocus capability but retain image stabilization. No big deal for landscape stuff and still possible with non-paid portrait stuff.
- Focus Peaking. This plays into the previous bullet point. Focus peaking is a feature that I first discovered with the NEX-7. As you turn the focus ring on the lens, the edges of the image that become sharp will begin to glow yellow (or whatever other color you set it to). If you see yellow glowing edges, it’s in focus. This makes shooting with manual focus a breeze. You can also set your live view screen to zoom into 100% when you turn the focus ring, although this only works with native lenses. It can still be done with Canon lenses, but you have to hit a button on the camera and it’s a little wonky.
- It’s so flipping light and small! I really grew tired of how heavy my 1Ds Mark III was. Lugging it around with a heavy lens on a tripod really would start to wear me out on long hikes or shoots. The Sony A7 is so small that I tend to forget just how powerful it is.
Why The A7 Over The A7r?
The Sony A7 is, for all intents and purposes, the little brother to the A7r. The A7r takes gargantuan 36 megapixel images and is also missing a lowpass filter (making the images a bit sharper apparently). The A7r is the same camera as the A7 except for the megapixel count and the lack of a lowpass filter. Other than that…identical.
So here’s what it came down to for me: I really don’t have a need for images that big. And neither do you most likely. I get that it’s nice to have a massive 70MB RAW, 7,000×5,000 pixel image that you can crop down to nothing and still be able to use. I get it. However, I have prints from my 1DSMIII that I did the same thing with, and they were only 21 megapixels starting out. One of my shots of an F22 Raptor was cropped down to less than 1600 pixels wide and I have used that file to make several 20×30 prints. The Sony a7 is 24 megapixels so the files are 6000×4000 pixels. That is plenty huge enough for me. It let’s me take more images per SD card, it doesn’t bog my camera down as much, it doesn’t bog my computer down as much and it doesn’t fill up my hard drives as fast. The potential, off in the distance benefit of those 36MP wasn’t enough for me to outweigh the very real, present setbacks that it introduced (albeit pretty small setbacks). The fact is that I have taken a lot of pictures (somewhere north of 150,000 according to my Lightroom library) but I have never looked at an image and said, “Man, if only I had 36 megapixels for that shot.” Does the A7r take higher resolution images than my A7? Well, duh. Will you be able to tell without comparing the RAW images side by side? I bet not :-).
Any Downsides? Things I Don’t Like?
Sure. The Sony A7 isn’t the be all, end all camera that will solve all of our problems as photographers. That camera hasn’t been invented yet (and probably never will). The native lens lineup is big setback right now. They currently just have the kit lens (a 28-70) and a couple prime lenses (a 35 and a 50). That is a very strange starting lineup. For one, why didn’t they just make it a 24-70? Ugh, who knows. Second, why didn’t they release a wider lens or a longer zoom lens at launch? Really strange. The upside to that is that all of these lenses and more are in the works from what I’ve been told. And they will most likely be released over the next year or so. Until then, I’ll happily use my Canon lenses as needed.
- Auto focus on the A7 is nice, but it’s not as good as my Canon. I can still do a Tack Sharp configuration on the A7 but this camera was not meant to be used for sports, fast moving subjects or anything like that.
- The shutter button is in a weird place. It’s not a huge deal, you get used to it, but it’s just a bit odd. And it feels like it may wear out over time. Time will tell I suppose.
- I really liked the dial layout of the NEX-7 and wish they would have stuck with that on the A7. The A7 has this weird Exposure Compensation dial on the far right at the top of the camera. This is only useful if you’re in Aperture, Shutter or Program mode but even then it’s really just an extra dial wheel that isn’t needed. Exposure compensation simply means over or under exposing the image based on what the camera thinks is the proper exposure. On Canon and Nikon, that can be done by just turning the dial to make the ticker move up or down the exposure range. In my opinion, Sony should have never included that dial wheel. They should have taken the dial wheel on the front of the camera and put that where the Exposure Compensation dial is, and put the shutter button where the front dial wheel is. That sounds confusing, but people who have used the camera will know what I’m talking about.
- The battery life kind of blows. I know that’s just the price you pay for having such a tiny camera (tiny batteries too). My 1Ds Mark III has massive batteries that last days but I easily have to use two batteries during a full day of shooting with the A7. Luckily it uses the same battery as my NEX-7 so I have three.
- For all the technology they crammed into this thing, it really and truly baffles me that they didn’t include GPS. I can upload a photo from the camera directly to Facebook but it can’t tag my position? Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the wifi. I would gladly swap it for GPS functionality.
The Sony A7, in spite of a few very minor flaws, has won my heart. I used it exclusively on a road trip to New Mexico, Utah and Colorado and it was a trooper. The image quality is just out of this world and I feel a whole new wave of passion and creativity in my work. The A7 or A7r are, in my opinion, the best cameras out on the market right now for landscape and travel photographers.
If you shoot weddings, commercial work, sports, etc…you may want to stick to your Canon or Nikon gear for now. But my goodness does the future look bright for mirrorless cameras.
Let me know! I’m happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have in the comments below. I’ll check this article often and make sure to answer as soon as I can. Cheers!